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Property tax deadline - and that late fee - loom

For many Tarrant County taxpayers, Jan. 31 can be even worse than April 15, when Uncle Sam gets his share.

Property tax payments are due Monday to the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and, unlike with the IRS, there won't be any refunds.

Payments are due at the county tax office or must be postmarked on or before Jan. 31.

And whatever you do, don't be late.

Even if your payment is just a day past the deadline, you'll face a stiff 7 percent penalty, said Betsy Price, the tax assessor-collector.

"Just about everything about property taxes gets people going, but that late-payment penalty is the most frustrating," she said.

"I always tell people, 'You have to look at the pickup date if you are going to mail to us on Jan. 31,'" she said. "There is no recourse if it's postmarked Feb. 1; I have no authority to waive those penalties."

For people who cannot pay their entire property tax bill, Price advises that they pay what they can, because the penalty is levied on the unpaid balance.

In Texas, which has no state income tax, property taxes represent most people's largest single contribution to government coffers, Price said.

For newcomers, especially, the property tax bite can be "a shocker," she acknowledged.

"We remind them to apply for a homestead exemption to reduce their liability. We remind them to get an over-65 freeze," she said.

A homestead exemption of $15,000 is mandated by the state, but it can be even more in some cities, Price said.

"What makes the property tax bill so hard is that it's once a year and it's a big payment," she said. "We have to remind people what property taxes cover. They forget fire protection, the police, the courts and schools."

Another common letdown for taxpayers can be the wide disparity among valuations in a neighborhood.

"That's one of the most common frustrations -- when there is massive building or enhancements going on in a neighborhood but you haven't touched your house. Older neighborhoods can be particularly hard to evaluate. The appraisers can't go inside," she said.

The overall tax roll was flat this year, Price said.

"Most people saw their house go down a little. A lot of people didn't protest this year because their values did go down," she said.

"People don't know that 58 to 60 percent who protest are successful. But they may not get what they ask for."

Taxes can be paid by credit card -- Visa, MasterCard or Discover -- or eCheck at www.tarrantcounty.com/etax or by calling 817-884-1100.

American Express payments are available only by phone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 817-884-1051, 817-884-1140 or 817-884-1516. A convenience fee is charged by the credit-card-processing agent.

In-person payments may be made at the downtown tax office or at one of seven Tarrant County subcourthouses.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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